My first experience with running was in 7th grade, at a small private school in Arroyo Grande, CA. A small group of kids, including myself, agreed to meet before school a couple of days a week to go running with the Athletics teacher, whose name I only remeber as "Coach Eric".
I remember how nervous I was the very first meeting, how I didn't know if I could run very far, or if I could keep up with the group. I was afraid of looking bad, at being laughed at, at possibly finding out I was no good at running or sports. In hindsight, it took a lot of courage to show up that day.
Two things stand out in my mind about that day. The physical and mental pain that was that morning's run, and the overwhelming joy and enthusiasm of Coach Eric.
As we ran to the nearby park, then across the swinging bridge, down Main Street to the road I knew would return us to school, my lungs and legs burned, sending uninterrupted messages to my brain to STOP! What sweet relief it was to see the school in sight once again, and to know I was going to make it!
What kept me going on that first run was my pride. What made me show up a second time was Coach Eric. He was so damned HAPPY to be out there with us! Laughing, joking, encouraging us. Distracting us with stories and jokes. He genuinely wanted to be there. Somehow, this was FUN for him. It wasn't anything he said or did, because in that moment he could've offered me a million dollars and I still would've been in enough discomfort to seriously turn it down if he would just let me...stop. No, it was simply the example he set. Everything about him said that being super fit was seriously fun. At least that's the connection I made that day. And it seriously intrigued me.
I showed up again and again to those morning runs, even though we had no track or cross country team. I ran with soccer and basketball players, and I was the only girl. Eventually, I transferred to Arroyo Grande High School and went out for Cross Country and Track. Greg DeNike was a great High School coach. I only learned how valuable that experience was later, when I had lesser coaches.
This is what I'm thinking about today as I prepare for the next 13 week season of Boys On The Run at Weaverville Elementary School. 28 years later, I feel so lucky to be able to play the role of "Coach Eric".